Last month in “Fast food with a side of fire-fighting chemicals,” I told you about the threat posed by some chemicals called perfluoroalkyls that are being used in fast-food and snack packaging.
Well, believe it or not, perfluoroalkyls aren’t the only fire-fighting chemicals we’re unknowingly gobbling down.
A new study, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, has revealed what some scientists are referring to as the worst ever documented U.S. case of food contamination involving a group of flame-retardants called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs).
Now, if you’re one of those everything’s-better-with-butter kind of people, you might not want to read this next part.
PBDEs found in butter and butter wrappers
Researchers found that one of 10 butter samples that were purchased at five Dallas grocery stores contained a high concentration (900 times higher than the average of the other nine tested!) of a PBDE compound called deca-BDE. The paper wrapper had PBDE levels more than 16 times greater than those of the contaminated butter.
So should we be concerned? In a word, yes.
Animal studies have already linked PBDEs to thyroid and neurobehavioral changes, and some experts believe that over time exposure to these chemicals could result in developmental issues and permanent damage to our nervous and reproductive systems.
In fact, a study earlier this year found that children with higher concentrations of PBDEs in their umbilical-cord blood at birth scored lower on physical- and mental-development tests than their peers. In addition, their verbal and IQ scores ran five to eight points below the average.
Unfortunately, PBDEs are next to impossible to avoid. They’re found in a wide variety of products, ranging from your child’s pajamas to the wires in your computer.
97 percent of Americans have PBDEs in their blood
We are exposed to them in both the air we breathe and the food we eat. Research has found that 97 percent of Americans have some PBDEs in their blood, and testing has found them in fish, meat, poultry, dairy and egg products.
So where does that leave us? Well, I have some good news and some bad news.
Two PDBE compounds, penta-BDE and octa-BDE, have already been phased out here in the United States and manufacturers have agreed to stop using all PDBEs by 2014. That’s the good news. But, of course, the products containing the stuff will be around for many more years after that—so we’re not nearly out of the woods yet.
And of course now I am left wondering if the next time I buy butter I’ll be taking home a heaping does of PBDEs with it.